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News summary for 11/21/07

Wed, 11/21/2007 - 8:14am
CED staff

CED Broadband Direct returns Monday, Nov. 26
By CED staff

CED Broadband Direct will not be published on Thursday, Nov. 22 and Friday, Nov. 23. 
The staff of CED wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving!

NFL-Comcast spat heats up
By Brian Santo

The argument between the National Football League (NFL) and Comcast escalated recently, with the NFL urging those of its fans who subscribe to Comcast to switch to another provider, with Comcast sending a cease-and-desist demand to the NFL, and with the NFL threatening to go to Congress and ask the government to referee the spat.

Let’s back up to the beginning: The NFL formed a premium cable channel called the NFL Network and decided it would show a number of games exclusively on the channel. It set the price at 70 cents per subscriber, which is far, far higher than most channels, though also far less than a select few – in the context of sports, the notable example is ESPN, which is getting well over $2.50 a sub. The NFL also demanded that MSOs include the NFL Network in their basic tiers.

For the privilege of presenting a handful of games, few cable operators wanted to pay the price, raise rates for everyone (in many cases, raise rates even more) and accede to kicking some other channel out of their basic tier, where channel space continues to be precious.

Comcast elected to shift the NFL Network to a digital tier, and the NFL’s response was to take umbrage and pressure Comcast by encouraging NFL fans to complain to Comcast and switch (to a DBS provider) if Comcast refused to move the NFL Network to the basic tier.

Comcast’s cease-and-desist may have had some effect: As of today, the NFL’s Web site directs customers who want the NFL Network to call DirecTV or EchoStar’s Dish Network, pointedly omitting Comcast but not actively urging fans to abandon Comcast, either.

On the other hand, the availability locator on NFL.com, where customers can punch in their zip codes and be told who in their area offers the NFL Network, still points to Comcast.

The NFL is in the weaker position in the short term, because if it wants those games to be seen by the largest possible pool of fans (and it does, at the risk of low ratings and low ad revenue), it has one month to come to some sort of agreement with Comcast. In the long term, politicians can’t do anything more popular than doing whatever necessary – sensible or not – to ensure their constituents get to watch their favorite teams, which works in the NFL’s favor. At this point, it’s all an issue of resolve.

Comcast EVP David L. Cohen offered the following statement: “Comcast offers the NFL Network to all of its interested customers today, and they can watch every NFL game the league makes available on cable television. The fact is that the vast majority of our customers have elected not to receive NFL Network.

Under our agreement with the NFL, which the league negotiated and signed, we offer the NFL Network as part of our Sports Entertainment Package. This is the best and fairest way to provide the NFL's expensive programming to customers, because viewers who want to watch the channel will be able to see it, while others who prefer not to receive it will not be forced to pay.”

Verizon hikes prices for new subs to FiOS TV service
By Mike Robuck

Verizon will be increasing the price of its FiOS video service to new subscribers beginning next year.

Starting Jan. 20, Verizon’s FiOS Premier TV subscription rate is slated to increase by $5, to $47.99 per month for new subscribers. Last year, Verizon raised the price by almost $3, to $42.99.

According to a Verizon spokesperson, subscribers who signed up in the last two years will see their rates increased to this year’s price level of $42.99, but customers who subscribed in 2007 will not see their rates change. Customers who do not have a bundle contract can lock in the 2007 FiOS TV price of $42.99 by signing up for a 12-month or 24-month bundle.

An e-mail from Verizon said the price increase was “not a cable TV-like annual rate hike,” but some media outlets reported that the new price was the result of higher programming costs, and the result of having to pay for the build-out of the fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

One of the reasons put forth for the granting of statewide franchises by Verizon and AT&T was that the competition between the telcos and cable operators would drive prices down for consumers, but Verizon’s price hike seems to indicate that it does not want to get into a price war with MSOs.

Verizon currently sells its video service in 12 states, and the telco had 717,000 subscribers as of the end of September.

Verizon has expanded its promotions recently, including one that offers a free Sharp Aquos HDTV set for triple-play subscribers in some areas of its footprint. The company recently announced that it anticipates having 150 HD channels by the end of this year, with 60 new HD channels within the next few months.

Verizon is looking to sweeten its triple-play bundle in order to win over customers from cable operators.

At last month’s TelcoTV conference, Tricia Lynch, Verizon’s VP of programming acquisitions, said Verizon has 10,000 VOD titles, compared with Comcast’s 9,000.

Verizon is targeting 1,000 HD VOD titles across all categories (movies, subscription and free content) by next year, and dynamic ad-insertion trials are slated for the first half of 2008, as well, with rollouts scheduled for the latter half of the year.

Lynch said Verizon’s goal is to not only take the best of what cable has to offer in the VOD space, but to also exceed it. On that note, Verizon plans to launch free movies within the next few months once it completes pending deals with several major studios.

VOD is also an important component of the bundle, Lynch said, and Verizon is working on similar platforms across its linear and VOD video services, as well as its high-speed data and mobile offerings.

In other Verizon-related news, the company was granted a video franchise on Monday from the Pelham Manor, N.Y., board of trustees. Pelham Manor is located in Westchester County, and the approval by the board brings the total number of New York City-area communities that have approved video franchises for Verizon to 73.

Everyone.net ups Web Mail 2.0 offering for cable ops
By Traci Patterson

Everyone.net, a provider of private-label, hosted e-mail services and software as a service (SaaS) messaging and collaboration solutions, has unveiled its Web Mail 2.0 offering, a new release from its Web Mail Service.

The new features offer users a dynamic user experience, enhanced inbox manageability and administration, and a platform for value-added services, including collaboration, productivity and compliance. Enhanced functionalities include the ability to drag and drop messages, preview e-mail content, use contextual right-click menus and conduct fast searches.

The Web Mail 2.0 interface is completely customizable and can be branded for an organization. Everyone.net works not only with cable operators, but also with telcos and satellite providers.

 “We have seen significant demand for innovative messaging services with a focus on productivity, enhanced user experience and value-added services,” said Michael Rose, president and CEO of Everyone.net. “With this release, we are taking another leap forward in combining excellent user experience, manageability and revenue-generating services that extends the value of our offerings.”

Rose said that the new offering provides cable operators’ subscribers a better user experience, more reliability, and spam and virus filtering. “The more the users like it, the more they use it, the more likely they are to stay as a customer. It’s an additional stickiness due to the user experience.”

And Rose said cable operators have been very receptive to it. “Our focus is on service providers. That’s the number one focus of our company.”

Everyone.net gained momentum in the cable marketplace earlier this year by providing the e-mail offering of choice for Mediacom CommunicationsBuckeye CableSystem and SCI Cable, and by showcasing its custom e-mail and messaging solutions for cable providers at The Cable Show 2007.

Judge denies new trial for Adelphia’s Rigas, son
By Mike Robuck

On Tuesday, a U.S. court denied a request by Adelphia founder John Rigas and his son Timothy for a new trial, according to Reuters.

Manhattan U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand did not side with the argument for a new trial based on grounds that the government’s central witness gave perjured testimony that led to the Rigas’ conviction.

John and Timothy Rigas were convicted in 2004 for concealing loans and stealing millions from the Coudersport, Pa.-based cable company. The elder Rigas received a 15-year prison term in 2005, while his son was sentenced to 20 years. Both the father and son started serving their prison terms this year.

Broadband Briefs for 11/21/07

* Dish Network adds iTV app for Weather Channel
By Traci Patterson

EchoStar’s Dish Network has added more interactive television (iTV) programming to its lineup, this time for The Weather Channel. Viewers with iTV-enabled STBs will have access to local and national weather information, including current conditions, Doppler radar, and 24-hour and five-day forecasts. Viewers will also be able to personalize and save up to five markets.

On Tuesday, Dish Network launched two iTV applications for ESPN and the Disney Channel, allowing advertisers to reach a more targeted audience with interactive ad campaigns. Interactive content includes scores, headlines, TV listings and show information.

* AT&T expands high-speed Internet offering in Calif.
By Traci Patterson

AT&T announced the expanded availability of its Yahoo high-speed Internet service to consumers in El Portal and Wawona, Calif.

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